Editorial – Saudi women score major victory with right to driver’s licences

Mac Olsen

The day June 24, 2018, marked a major milestone for women’s rights in Saudi Arabia, as women finally have the freedom to hold driver’s licences in that country.

No longer do women have to rely on their male family members for transportation. More importantly, it is one less form of male control over women in that staunchly conservative, male-dominated society.

Aya Batrawy of the Associated Press wrote an article on June 23, about this milestone:

“Saudi women are in the driver’s seat for the first time in their country and steering their way through busy city streets just minutes after the world’s last remaining ban on women driving was lifted on Sunday.

“It’s a euphoric and historic moment for women who have had to rely on their husbands, fathers, brothers and drivers to run basic errands, get to work, visit friends or even drop kids off at school. The ban had relegated women to the backseat, restricting when and how they move around.

“I’m speechless. I’m so excited it’s actually happening,” said Hessah al-Ajaji, who drove her family’s Lexus down the capital’s busy Tahlia Street after midnight.

This is certainly a welcome development, especially in a part of the world where women don’t have equal rights.

Not that the male conservatism in Saudi Arabia will give way overnight. I’m sure that there will be some in the old guard who will try to uphold the repressive, backwards and immoral attitudes that women are their chattel, with whom they can do as they please.

Women being allowed to drive where and when they want, will stick in their craw as many Saudi men will not want to lose the power and control they exercise over women.

And as Batrawy’s story continues, not all Saudi women will be driving at once. This is because some still prefer to be chauffer-driven or because the access to the driver’s training classes is still limited.

For others, it will be a wait-and-see game, to determine the level of acceptance from male drivers.

Nonetheless, the fact that Saudi women now have the right to obtain licences and drive in their own country is a change for the better.

This measure should also please Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teenage Nobel Peace Prize winner who survived a Taliban bullet in 2012. She became an honorary Canadian citizen following her address to Parliament on April 12, 2017.

Yousafzai is an advocate for female education and women’s rights, as in her native Pakistan. The Taliban have an absolute hatred for her and her advocacy. But with developments like the one in Saudi Arabia and Yousafzai’s advocacy leading the way, the day might come when the last vestiges of Muslim extremism will give way to civilized discourse and equality.

That is what we in Canada and people in the rest of the civilized world must continue to champion. A Saudi woman’s right to a driver’s licence may seem like a small, inconsequential thing, but it certainly has the ability to spur further social progress and shake the foundations of a conservative society like Saudi Arabia.

 

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